By Alexandra Griffin, Managing Editor
For most students, December is a month full of giving and receiving gifts as well as celebrating with family and friends. However, many students overlook one event that lasted only a few hours 75 years ago and threatened the livelihood of most Americans.
Pearl Harbor, the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was attacked by Japanese Imperial forces, resulting in over 2,000 casualties of military personnel and civilians on Dec. 7, 1941.
On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, many sailors had just woken up and were preparing for a relaxed day on an island many consider equivalent to paradise. Despite a warning sent directly to President Franklin Roosevelt three days prior to the attack that threatened the Hawaiian islands, no additional defense of the massive harbor was employed.
Just before 8 a.m., the first Japanese dive bombers flew into the harbor in formation, dropping the first bombs.
The harbor was dive-bombed and torpedoed for two hours, damaging or destroying 20 ships and over 300 airplanes.
One of the most chilling stories was that of the U.S.S. Arizona, which was bombed only about 10 minutes after the start of the attack. An 1,800 lb bomb landed in the ammunition magazine and the ship exploded, sinking and trapping over 1,000 sailors inside.
Although every major battleship in the harbor sustained major damage, the U.S.S. Arizona and U.S.S. Utah were the only two that were never repaired.
This attack caused more casualties than any previous attack on U.S. soil (a record that would not be broken until 9/11), and it had some of the greatest repercussions.
The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was thrust into World War II, in which America had desperately tried to maintain a neutral stance.
While most people at the time were excited for the holidays, just like today, many men and women, ages 18 to 45, volunteered or were drafted into the war effort.
The fighting in the Pacific campaign began on Dec. 8 and continued until Sept. 2, 1945, just about a month after the first ever atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Within the near four years that the United States was at war with Japan, the United States lost over 111,000 troops, over 250,000 troops were wounded and over 21,000 troops were taken as prisoners of war.
Not only did the war cause massive casualties, it marked a new era, the era of modern weapons and “mutually assured destruction,” the premise that the best way to prevent being destroyed by an attack of nuclear bombs would be to have the nuclear arsenal to obliterate any opponent. No attack or air raid in history had ever reached the pure hysteria and fatality of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the same amount of time.
As most members of the military that experienced the attack on Pearl Harbor are in their late 90s or no longer alive, it is especially important to remember the consequences of the attack, and the sacrifices that were made in order to win the war.
The war began with an obvious Japanese advantage because, in previous years, Japan had conquered a great amount of land in the Pacific. However, America had quickly turned into a war machine and it wasn’t long before Japan felt its remarkable capabilities.
The first few major battles between the United States and Japan were the Battle of Wake Island, resulting in an all out Japanese victory, and the Battle of the Coral Sea which resulted in a tactical victory for Japan.
The next major battle was the Battle of Midway, when breakthroughs in deciphering the Japanese Purple code gave the U.S. Navy critical information of a sneak attack planned to hit the American Island of Midway. The attack, if successful would completely disable the U.S. Navy as most of its major, functioning ships were located at Midway Island.
Despite being extremely outnumbered, the U.S. Navy was able to destroy all four of the aircraft carriers sent to Midway with the loss of only one of their own aircraft carriers (U.S.S. Yorktown). With the removal of a major portion of the Japanese Navy, the U.S. was given more room to advance through the Pacific.
The Battle of Guadalcanal (in the Solomon Islands), also known as the Guadalcanal Campaign, marked the turning point as the main airstrip on the island, dubbed Henderson Field, was of great strategic importance to both Japan and the United States due to its close proximity to Japan.
The initial victory in Guadalcanal was swift, however, the United States celebrated too quickly and sent off most of its major defenses, including the U.S.S. Enterprise. The island was subject to heavy fire, many of the ships were destroyed, the U.S.S. Enterprise was badly damaged and many troops were killed or wounded.
“Our muddy machine gun pits were transformed into Courage Clubs when bombs fell or Japanese warships pounded us from the sea,” said PFC Robert Leckie of the 1st Marine Division in “Helmet for my Pillow”: “It was natural that the poor fellow who might break into momentary terror should cause pained silence and embarrassed coughs.”
Despite the possibility of an American victory steadily increasing, Japan fought on. The following campaign of the Mariana and Palau Islands resulted in major American victories and massive casualties, many of which were civilian casualties, often suicides.
In particular, the Battle of Peleliu caused immense losses on both the American and Japanese sides. The island, that was occupied by Japan at the time, was only a little bit over five square miles; however, many of members of the Marines going onto the island did not ever make it off the beach. On top of the massive casualties, the battle is considered unnecessary by many Marines.
“The wounded who had received morphine sat or lay around like zombies and patiently awaited the ‘docs’ attention,” said Cpl. Eugene Sledge, recalling the invasion of Peleliu in his book, “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa”.
In fall of 1944, the U.S. invaded the island of Leyte in the Philippines. The invasion faced little opposition as the Japanese military had expected the main island of Luzon to be invaded first. Japan waged a counter attack, where the remaining Japanese defenses would be split up to corner the portion of the island under American control, meanwhile the four remaining aircraft carriers were set as a decoy.
The U.S. soon became aware of the group in the north and proceeded to bombard the group. After two days, the group’s largest ship was sunk and they appeared to retreat. The decoy carriers, spotted by the U.S. attracted a large portion of the protection of Leyte, and the Southern group was bombarded as well. The northern group had only pretended to retreat, and the depleted U.S. defense was now under fire. However, the Japanese leader turned back, worried that they were sailing into a trap. The decoy group was also fully destroyed by the U.S., leaving the Japanese Navy with little form of defense.
With the possibility of an American victory becoming more likely, the Japanese became desperate ;Kamikaze attacks were born. Not only would Japanese pilots fly planes into ships in suicide missions, soldiers would strap landmines to their bodies and deliberately throw themselves under tanks. This prolonged the battle by two months, when the entire island was secure. The Japanese had lost almost 70,000 troops while the U.S. lost almost 16,000.
Next was the Battle of Iwo Jima. Just southeast of Japan, Iwo Jima was the first of the Japanese home islands to be attacked. Despite being outnumbered by 90,000 soldiers, the Japanese held strong by using a system of underground tunnels, heavy artillery and bunkers. After nearly two months of barbaric fighting, the U.S. captured Iwo Jima. Most Japanese soldiers defending Iwo Jima were killed or missing.
The U.S. advanced onto the Japanese Home Island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945. Many historians consider this the bloodiest battle of the war in the Pacific.
The Japanese, focused on delaying the advance of the american forces, sent massive amount of suicide missions out. Kamikaze attacks were rampant and the Japanese would even strap bombs to civilians to trick the U.S. forces. Differing from most of the other battles, the Battle of Okinawa took place in a relatively heavily populated area and civilians were used as spies, informants and decoys,subsequently, the Battle of Okinawa produced nearly 100,000 civilian casualties.
The island was fully captured on June 21, 1945. For the months following the Battle of Okinawa, the U.S. started preparing to invade Japan. Simultaneously, a new type of bomb was being developed and tested in the states to cause massive destruction.
With the new bomb being tested, the allied victory in Europe and the immensely depleted Japanese military, an allied victory on the war seemed inevitable.
On July 16, 1945, the Manhattan Project reported a successful detonation of the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. News of this produced a debate in the U.S. Government that was soon resolved, and the bombs were sent to the Pacific.
On August 6, the first atomic bomb was planned to be dropped on the city of Hiroshima with alternates being Nagasaki and Kokura. After a short bought of bad weather, the clouds over Hiroshima broke and it was officially decided where the bomb would be dropped. These specific locations were chosen because they were left unscathed by American dive bombers, allowing the full effects of the bomb to be shown.
Throughout the night, warnings of bomb raids rang over Hiroshima, the last one being cleared at 7:09 am. The bomb was released from the B-29 aircraft, named Enola Gay, at 8:15 am. Few people knew the true nature of the bomb, so when it detonated in the center of Hiroshima, most of the crew in the Enola Gay and the other aircraft accompanying it were shocked when the initial blast of the bomb went off. 30 percent of the population in Hiroshima died from the blast and the resulting firestorm.
Three days following the bomb drop on Hiroshima, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, although the planned target for the drop was Kokura. The bomb was dropped over Nagasaki at 11:01 am. At least 35,000 people were killed by the initial blast of this bomb.
Both cities experienced medical emergencies after the dropping of their respective bombs. Burns and other injuries kept the few surviving doctors extremely busy for the next few days, then radiation poisoning began presenting itself in massive numbers.
“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another,” Julius Robert Oppenheimer said, one of the physicists on the Manhattan Project.
Emperor Hirohito, of Japan announced the unconditional surrender of Japan on August 14, 1945 ending World War II.
Posted: Dec. 3